Resolution Calling for Actions to Enhance Local Autonomy and Achieve a Society Offering a Safe and Secure Living to All
October 15, 2021
Japan Federation of Bar Associations
Empty shops with shutters closed on shopping streets is a typical sight in rural communities in Japan. As core industries and job opportunities are shrinking, more people are leaving their hometowns, causing a rapid decline in population in many such communities. On the other hand, with Tokyo being home to more than half of listed companies in the country, many young people are moving to the greater Tokyo area including the prefectures of Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa, pushing the area’s population to account for close to 30% of the country’s total population. All of this has been causing an over-concentration of people and business in Tokyo. The COVID-19 pandemic and large natural disasters in recent years have highlighted dangerous weakness caused by the over-concentration.
Such decline among the country’s rural communities has been caused by a government-led policy prioritizing economic growth and efficiency in the midst of globalization resulting in destabilized employment and social security, widen disparities between communities, decline in local economic activity in the communities caused by the removal of restrictions on large-scale retail stores, and cuts on public services provided by local governments due to a downsized workforce, etc. In response to depopulation that will continue into the future, the government has come up with a policy in relation to how local governments should deal with the situation which includes moving the functions of public facilities to the center of the community, for efficient operation of the communities with a declining population density. The policy might negatively affect the local autonomy guaranteed by the Constitution in the future and threaten the right to live of the residents of the communities that will be left behind.
Under the Constitution, allowing the residents of communities to participate in local politics (resident autonomy) and make decisions for their own communities is essential in protecting human rights and realizing democracy. For this very reason, the autonomy of local governments (group autonomy) is protected. See Article 92 of the Constitution regarding the main purpose of local autonomy. Since communities are “a place of living for people,” it is necessary for local governments to implement measures and proper practices through the participation of the residents that meet the needs of the residents and are suited to the actual circumstances of the community, and to try to implement sustainable development of the local economy so that the lives of the residents can be improved. Reflecting this view, the JFBA asks the national and local governments for the implementation of the following measures for revitalization of the communities through respecting the unique characteristics of each community and encouraging autonomy in view of realizing a society where everyone will be equally respected as an individual and offered a safe and secure living as guaranteed under Articles 13, 14, and 15 of the Constitution.
1. Establishing a decent working environment and living within the community, correcting disparities between communities
Due to hospital consolidation, a reduced number of hospital beds, lack of welfare service workers and facilities, daycare center and school consolidation, etc., some communities are facing reduced opportunities to receive medical, welfare, and day care and educational services, which is weakening their foundation as a community. To solve this, it is important to implement measures aiming to create a community where the residents can have a decent working environment and living.
- (1) To avoid a situation where medical, nursing and disability welfare services are not available to residents in some communities:
Review the regional medical care vision and maintain and build more public hospitals and public medical care facilities essential for the community; newly build or expand in-patient and out-patient nursing care facilities to meet the needs of the community; and
- (2) Review medical fees, nursing fees, and fees paid to disability welfare services providers, significantly improve their working environments, and create stable employment opportunities for the community, in order to fill the shortage of workers in medical, nursing, and disability welfare fields. To create a community that is livable for residents including young people;
- (a) Review the plan to consolidate local government functions, daycare centers, elementary schools, junior high schools, and high schools;
- (b) Provide and maintain public housing and housing allowance, provide free lunch and free health care to minors, and support those who want to start a business, find a job, move to, and find a place to settle down; and
- (c) Renovate empty houses and use them as facilities intended for the elderly, people with disabilities, families with children, and community centers, etc.;
- (3)Provide effective assistance to small and mid-size enterprises (“SME”) such as reducing social insurance premiums, amend the Minimum Wage Act to introduce a universal minimum wage across the country, and introduce the Public Contract Law or Ordinance to increase wages and close the wage gap between communities.
2. Sustainable development of the local economy through establishing a positive cycle
It is important to try to implement sustainable development of the local economy that will not be affected by the global economy through establishing a positive cycle within itself and maintaining and extending the production and living of the workers and business operators within the community.
- (1) Efforts should be led and driven by the community while focusing on “collaboration, such as establishing a review committee consisting of local business operators and citizens in the community in addition to local administrators. The review committee should survey the current situation in the local economy, reassess local resources including the local natural environment and historical buildings and prepare a vision based on the reassessment, carrying out job-matching and providing job security within the community, and providing assistance to those looking to start a business, etc. At the same time, they should strive to create a synergy through a well-balanced comprehensive effort in the environmental, social, and economic fields while taking advantage of unique characteristics of each community. Such examples include those related to agriculture, forestry, and fishing as the primary industry, renewable energy technology, such as small hydraulic power generation and woody biomass, and projects promoting the education and welfare fields.
- (2) SME constitutes the foundation of the local economy. Those businesses should be actively nurtured and supported by enacting a basic ordinance on promoting SME and introducing practices that embody the principle of the ordinance.
3. Enhancing the operational foundation of local governments and local autonomy
Local governments, as a public services provider, are financially struggling due to cuts on tax revenues distributed from the national government. More jobs are being cut, more of the workforce is going part-time, and outsourcing is becoming more common. Some local governments are having difficulty maintaining the quality of public services they provide as apparent in the low number of public health centers as exposed by the COVID pandemic, while others had to downsize their office space during the municipal mergers and dissolutions in the Heisei era. Measures need to be taken to properly set up the operations of local governments and enhance local autonomy so that they can meet the needs of the residents of the community, support the local economy, and provide high quality public services reflecting the will of the residents.
- (1) As for the financial aspect, it is necessary to carry out a reform of the national tax system aiming to substantially increase tax revenues allocated from the national government and expand the local tax in order to install the financial soundness of the local government and increase the autonomy of their financial management.
- (2) As for personnel,
- (a) Call for the national government to stop directing local governments with restrictions on the number of their personnel and make it a policy for them to hire employees who perform a routine job on a permanent basis.
- (b) Local government employees should be treated in line with the rule of “equal pay for equal work” and “equal treatment for all employees.” Wages and other working conditions for fiscal-year appointment staff should be improved.
- (c) Excessive outsourcing to the private sector should be stopped.
- (3)We are strongly concerned that cooperation between local governments led by major cities and the policy to shift the role of local governments from main service providers to "platform builders," which has been proposed by the national councils, are a threat to resident autonomy and group autonomy. Efforts should be made to construct a mechanism allowing residents of the community to solve their own challenges through a democratic process while allowing for identification of specific challenges on a community basis and respecting the equality and autonomy of local governments.
- (4) A mechanism should be set up to reflect diverse opinions from the residents of the community including socially vulnerable people and minority people in order to effectively implement resident autonomy. To realize this, various measures including the introduction of a quota on the number of women in parliament, should be explored in detail in the coming years, and at the same time, foreign residents with permanent resident status should be given the right to vote in local elections.
The JFBA recognizes that it is essential for the residents of a community to work toward realizing the protection of human rights and democracy at a community level through respecting the diversity of the residents of the community, resident autonomy, and group autonomy. The JFBA will continue to work with local bar associations and lawyers across the country, who are members of their communities themselves, to seek to correct the problems in the government policies, to take the lead in community development in cooperation with citizens, citizen groups and local governments, and is determined to do its best to realize a society that offers a safe and secure living to all.
We resolve as above.
October 15, 2021
Japan Federation of Bar Associations